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Language X is older than Y

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Serpent
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 Message 25 of 31
21 November 2012 at 12:26am | IP Logged 
Arekkusu wrote:
Serpent wrote:
sipes23 wrote:
That said, I can see the pride of place a lot of minority-language speakers might have on their language. "It's not as well known as English (or what have you), but it's old." It's also likely that most people never give this sort of thing a
second thought.
Makes sense with what Mark says. "Our language is old" as in it's had a written form for a long time.

As in "the language that was used at the time of the first written records is no longer understood by speakers of the modern language, but it has the same name"?
Not necessarily, this depends on the language.
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Chung
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 Message 26 of 31
21 November 2012 at 1:06am | IP Logged 
The last dozen or so posts are precisely why I restrict myself to using the qualifiers "old" or "older" when referring to attestations or comparing usage from what period to the next within the speech community (e.g. "Beowulf is in Old English", "The Glagolitic Mass is supposedly in Old Church Slavonic"). It gets too damned messy when using "old(er)" (or "new(er)" or "young(er)") as a predicative adjective to compare languages as in "Lithuanian is almost as old as Latin" or "Hebrew is older than Arabic" In my experience it's little more than another outlet for people to conflate perceived age of native language with cultural superiority.


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Марк
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 Message 27 of 31
21 November 2012 at 8:16am | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
The last dozen or so posts are precisely why I restrict myself to using
the qualifiers "old" or "older" when referring to attestations or comparing usage from
what period to the next within the speech community (e.g. "Beowulf is in
Old English", "The Glagolitic Mass is supposedly in Old Church Slavonic").
It gets too damned messy when using "old(er)" (or "new(er)" or "young(er)") as a
predicative adjective to compare languages as in "Lithuanian is almost as old as Latin"
or "Hebrew is older than Arabic" In my experience it's little more than another outlet
for people to conflate perceived age of native language with cultural superiority.


But can we say that Classical Latin is older than Old English because it was spoken
earlier?
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Iversen
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 Message 28 of 31
21 November 2012 at 10:25am | IP Logged 
Old English is also called Anglosaxon. The Anglosaxons invaded Great Britain around 450 or so (allegedly with an invitation from king Vortigern, but that may be a myth) so any continuity back in time must be located to Sachsen, Angeln and Jutland. If the language spoken here had been unchanged for 500 years - with or without attestation - then Anglosaxon could have claimed an age that was comparable to that of Classical Latin. But hey, why stop with Classical Latin (which may have been a written form more than a spoken one in the same manner as New Norwegian is a purely orthographic standard based on spoken dialects)? If we accept a broadening of scope for Anglosaxon to include 'Old Saxon' in general then we should also allow Latin in general, and then Latin will still be attested long before anything that might fall under the heading 'Old Saxon'.

As a matter of fact the problem is solved in another way. The oldest attestions of any Germanic language are the runic inscriptions from Scandinavia, which date back to around 200 p.D. The use of runes survived for more than 900 years (with several reforms along the way), but inscriptions from the Viking age (roughly around 700-1100) are written in a language that is much more compressed and shortwinded than the language in the oldest inscriptions, actually so much that the latter is seen as a language distinct from Old Norse (and apparently spoken by people who had more patience than a typical viking). In Danish this archaic language is called "urnordic" (at least the Germans will recognize this prefix), whereas it seems to be called either Ancient Nordic or Proto-Nordic in English. This last name should of course be avoided because we are talking about an attested language (albeit with very few texts).

The problem is that there is practically no evidence left from the early history of Anglosaxon on the British Isles from the crucial years, and even the socalled 'Old Saxon' is attested only from around the 8. century and onwards (and it reaches the end of its thether as the sadly moribund Low German or Platt). So 'Old Saxon' is already too late, we must go back to something older than 'old'.

According to Wikipedia no runic inscription on the British isles is older than the 5. century, and this may include inscriptions with just two runes. So the Scandinavian tradition reaches further back, but only with a few hundred years.

On the continent the High German consonant shift which separated High German from Low German is said to have happened between then 3. and 5. century, but the point is that Saxon etc. did not go through this shift. So the language of Hengest and Horsa (if they ever existed) may have represented a tradition that harks back into the days where Classical Latin still was spoken/written - although it is impossible to say how far back in time this tradition stretches. But this language was not the Anglosaxon or Old English of for instance Beowulf. When Anglosaxon appeared as a newborn baby from the dim and foggy past around 700 with authors like Cædmon, Bede, Cynewulf and Aldhelm it was already another language than that spoken until the period of the Great Migrations, and it was also different from the contemporaneous Old Saxon, Old Norse and Old High German spoken on the continent.

So yes, we can definitely say that Classical Latin is older than Old English.


Edited by Iversen on 21 November 2012 at 10:47am

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Aquila123
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 Message 29 of 31
03 December 2012 at 11:39am | IP Logged 
If you speak about contemporary languages, it does not give any meaning to say one of them is older than the other, without specifying what you mean with the utterance, since all natural languages have a history back to the origine of Homo sapiens probably.

But languages do not change in the same speed. One can compare how far back in time one must look in the history of a language and still find it understandable for a person having only learnt the modern version. The language that has the oldest understandable version for a modern speaker can then said to be the oldest.

In this sense Greek, Icelandic and Finnish are clearly older than English, Norwegian and Hungarian. Also Hebrew and standard Arabic are in this sense very old languages.



Edited by Aquila123 on 03 December 2012 at 11:43am

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Chung
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 Message 30 of 31
03 December 2012 at 7:44pm | IP Logged 
Aquila123 wrote:
If you speak about contemporary languages, it does not give any meaning to say one of them is older than the other, without specifying what you mean with the utterance, since all natural languages have a history back to the origine of Homo sapiens probably.

But languages do not change in the same speed. One can compare how far back in time one must look in the history of a language and still find it understandable for a person having only learnt the modern version. The language that has the oldest understandable version for a modern speaker can then said to be the oldest.

In this sense Greek, Icelandic and Finnish are clearly older than English, Norwegian and Hungarian. Also Hebrew and standard Arabic are in this sense very old languages.



What you've touched on fits to a tee the difference between conservative and innovative languages but this says nothing about the age of the entities as suggested by (mis)use of the terms "old" and "young" with their biological connotations.

In a very restricted sense, one could say that Afrikaans is "young" compared to Dutch (or Dutch is "old" compared to Afrikaans) since Afrikaans developed from the speech of colonists from the Netherlands who landed in southern Africa in the 17th century. These people then spoke dialects of (Early) Modern Dutch typical of anyone from the Netherlands but over time what these colonists spoke began to show the influence of contact with the non-Dutch speakers of the area as well lessened contact with the "motherland". Now what they speak has diverged sufficiently from the "motherland" that we note the existence of distinct languages with substantial mutual intelligibility.

On a different note, Classical Arabic is older than Modern Standard Arabic, if for no other reason that Classical Arabic reflects the linguistic characteristics of a community from a time that precedes what we can observe or deduce in the community at a later time.

Here's one linguist's attempt to deal with the related question of what is the "oldest" language. As I noted earlier, I avoid (and even have come to dislike) using "old" and "new" as descriptors when comparing languages because of their conflation of a biological concept with non-biological ones. There's also the potential for misuse by amateurs to proclaim some kind of superiority because of the supposed antiquity of their native tongue compared to that of another group of people.
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Serpent
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 Message 31 of 31
04 December 2012 at 1:22am | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
There's also the potential for misuse by amateurs to proclaim some kind of superiority because of the supposed antiquity of their native tongue compared to that of another group of people.
Or simply equality. "our language isn't as big as English, but it's just as old/sophisticated".


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